Most of us are probably aware that the animal tourism industry has a bad name. More often than not, it’s causing more harm to our furry, fishy and feathery friends than good, and that’s not something that we at Cats and Backpacks can support.

Fish are friends, not food

Bruce, Finding Nemo

Excuse that claw-kward film reference (and all the terrible cat puns), but it’s true- animals should be cherished and respected, not exploited to make money for the travel and tourism industries. But we do understand- the world is a big place, and it’s full of fascinating creatures that we would love to get to know better.

So how can we all combine our love of travel and animals in a responsible, respectable and ecological way? Finding the best animal experiences abroad is what we at Cats and Backpacks are passionate about, and we think we’ve come up with a list of the best animal experiences to have whilst you’re travelling without causing a threat!

responsible animal experiences abroad
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Volunteer Placements

If you really want to make a difference to animal lives, and you’ve got some time to spare, why not get involved with a volunteer program? There are Charities and Organisations all over the world looking for help, so you really can get involved with any wildlife experiences you can imagine.

Want to volunteer with orangutans in Borneo? There’s an organisation for that. Want to help great white sharks in South Africa? There’s a program for that.

The sky is the limit with how you can volunteer with animals of all shapes and sizes. If, like us, you’re a bit cat mad, you can go domesticated with Cats Protection and various other Charities worldwide, or go wild with tigers in India.

We’re now starting a long term volunteer project at a dog shelter in Ningbo- proof that you don’t even need to speak the local language to find an opportunity! We can’t wait to help care for dogs like this gorgeous boy:

volunteering with dogs abroad
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Cat Cafes and Dog Cafes

What is more relaxing than a cup of tea with a furry friend on your lap? Nothing! Originating in Taiwan and then Japan, Cat Cafes can now be found all over the world. We’ve already visited Cat Cafes in Prague and Shanghai, and next on our list is a local one for us in Ningbo.

Cat Cafes are brilliant because they allow you to sit and cuddle lots of fur babies, many of whom have been rescued from shelters and unfortunate circumstances. Also, many Cat Cafes give lots of their profits to charity and do what they can to promote the safety and welfare of local animals.

To find a Cat Café near you, Google will be your best friend- just type in ‘cat café ___’ and you’re on your way.

If canines are more your thing, we’ve heard that dog cafes are now on the rise- but be careful when you’re searching because we were just given a list of restaurants that serve dog- and that really doesn’t fit with our ethos!

shanghai cat cafe
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Hotels with Pets

Don’t underestimate the obvious- many hotels have either pets or wildlife as part of the package. Perhaps they have a kitty friend, or something more exotic. Whilst in Kenya we stayed at the Baobab Beach Resort in Diani Beach, and we made many monkey and lizard friends. We were also shown starfish and crabs whilst down on the beach that was steps away from our room.

Whilst staying in Chiang Mai recently, the security guard owned a very sweet kitty that he would bring to work every evening. We loved giving her a cuddle when heading up our room each night! Our hotel was the Grace Boutique Guest House in the Old City- it had a beautiful pool and was a steal at £14 per night.

Some of our other favourite hotels with animals are Lucky Lake Hostel in Amsterdam and Kassandra Bay Hotel in Halkidiki. We love using for our bookings, and a bonus is that it often tells you on each hotel page whether they have pets or not, and if you can bring your own. Plus most rooms are free cancellation, which means you can secure a room with no deposit and you don’t pay until you arrive- then if you need to cancel it you can with no repercussions. We even book hotels when we’re not sure of dates- it’s so easy to cancel that it makes sense to us to grab deals whilst they’re available. Hotels Combined is also a great choice as you can easily compare hotel prices across multiple websites and again take advantage of free cancellation offers!

It doesn’t just have to be ‘normal’ animals in hotels- have you heard of Giraffe Manor in Nairobi? It’s an exclusive hotel which doubles as a giraffe sanctuary! There are plenty of accommodation options for animal-loving travellers out there.

Baobab Beach Resort and Spa, Kenya
Grace Boutique Guest House, Thailand
Giraffe Manor Hotel, Kenya

Reputable Tour Companies

If you’re not such a big fan of DIY travelling, why not trust in a tour company to arrange an animal-packed adventure for you? There are some very reputable companies who arrange fabulous tours- Intrepid Travel have some great wildlife tours and holidays, such as this 64 day extravaganza through Africa or this shorter Kruger Lodge experience.

Some other companies we love are STA Travel and Geckos Adventures– no matter who you choose you know you’re getting a legitimate animal experience with welfare in mind.

Cats and Backpacks are also on hand as travel consultants to help plan your next adventure. Take a look at our Travel Consultancy page, or drop us an email using our contact form to find out more information. It would be our pleasure to support you in arranging a bespoke, budget friendly wildlife holiday- the paw-ssibilities are endless!

Here we are on our own tour in Sri Lanka:

sri lanka tour
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Perhaps not an immediately obvious choice, but have you ever considered Housesitting? Using Trusted Housesitters you can apply to look after homes and animals whilst their owners are away, meaning you get a free place to stay and some animal love. Some owners even offer gifts and a small stipend to those looking after their property, so it’s certainly worth signing up and having a look and the long and short term opportunities.

We’ve heard of people taking care of cats, dogs, horses, chickens and lots of other animals too! You’re definitely ticking all of the responsible boxes with this one.

budapest scenery
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If in doubt, look it up

If you’re unsure about whether the activity you’d like to do is harmful to animals, just look it up. We love using Lonely Planet guides to research any controversies behind animal tourism- you can easily grab one from Amazon for just a few pounds.

If your own research doesn’t give you many answers, and you still think things are a bit shady, our best advice is to avoid the activity altogether and look for an alternative. Don’t give your hard earned cash to people who may continue to exploit animals for money.

lion on safari
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We hope you’ve had some inspiration from these won-fur-ful ways to have animal experiences when you’re travelling! Don’t forget, when you’re abroad you need travel insurance which will cover you for any unusual activities you may be doing. We recommend taking a look at Holiday Extras for shorter or annual policies- they won’t be beaten on price! World Nomads are a good choice for digital nomads or long term travellers as they allow you to buy a new policy even if you’re already on the road.

No animals were harmed in the making of this guide.

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